Famous throughout the world for its raw beauty, dramatic scenery, and ancient history, the highlands of Scotland are on most people’s bucket list. For anyone wishing to see all of this, the North Coast 500 road trip combines it all into the perfect vacation to the Scottish Highlands. However, with so much to see and do in the north of Scotland, deciding on which North Coast 500 highlights you should pick first can be difficult.
During our week-long camping trip around the bonnie highlands, we saw sights that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. To help you plan your trip a little easier, we have made a list of all of the best North Coast 500 highlights and most photogenic locations along this route. This is your ultimate guide to the most photogenic spots on the NC500.
The Most Photogenic Spots on the North Coast 500
The northern coast of Scotland is without a doubt some of the most dramatic, isolated and unbelievably beautiful lands that you will ever set your eyes on. As the rolling hills meet the crashing North Sea, the biting winds will not be the only thing to bring a tear to your eye, but also the grandeur that lies before you.
As you drive along the North Coast 500 route, it will not be long before you find yourself pulling in at every corner, stopping off at every viewpoint, and stalking every beach for yet another stunning photograph. There are just so many views to see and so many north coast pictures to take!
Along this route, there are certain points that stood out for us as being some of the most spectacular sights we have seen in our lives. These are the most photogenic spots along the North Coast 500.
As you make your way from East to West along the northern coast of Scotland, just before entering the town of Tongue, you will once again meet the crashing waves of the North Sea. High up from the beaches below, the road winds along the side of a mountain at this point, some 50m above the coast.
Continue along this road and keep an eye out for the small glimpse of a beach on your right-hand side, Coldbackie Beach. As you spot it, there is a small area that allows you to park up and take a wander down onto the beach. Be aware, this is a pretty tough walk as it is steep and can be slippery, however, the beach at the bottom is absolutely worth the journey.
As you make your ay over the final sand dune leading to the beach, you are transported far, far away from the Scottish road trip that you just left behind. Coldbackie Beach is like a beach straight from the Caribbean, with golden sands stretching for hundreds of meters along a secluded bay, guarded by towering mountains inland.
If you are lucky, you might even get a little bit of sunshine as you enjoy the beautiful views along the beach.
Over thousands of years, the harsh conditions of the North Sea have sculpted the shoreline of the North Coast 500, creating a stunning display of the raw power of nature. Perhaps the most impressive piece of this natural exhibition of power are the incredible Duncansby Stacks sea columns, one of the best views in Scotland.
Situated on the very northern tip of the Scottish mainland, the Duncansby Stacks are one of the main attractions outside of John O’Groats. Towering up to 40m above the water below, the sea stacks are a short walk from the Duncansby Head Lighthouse. If you are touring the northern route by campervan or with a tent, this spot is the best wild camping spot in the area if you wish to view the stacks with the morning sun.
Take a stroll down the Whaligoe Steps and be transported to a whole other world. As you descend the ancient steps to the old dockyard below, the peacefulness is simply unbelievable. Far away from the howling winds above, you can see why this was chosen as a spot to park up and store boats. This photo stop on the east coast of Scotland is definitely one for the itinerary.
The Whaligoe Haven is believed to have been in use as a safe place to store fishing boats for around 300 years. The earliest records of use date back to the early 18th century, when the engineer Thomas Telford described using them as a “dreadful place”. The setup since this day has been altered and improved, so don’t let this account put you off.
Leading down the 250ft cliffs of Whaligoe are some 325 steps made from local flagstone, which zig-zag there way down the otherwise perilous descent. Upon reaching the bottom, take some time to wander around the old docking station, which at one point in time would have been used to store as many as 20 fishing boats. Gaze up to the cliffs above and out into the open expanse before you and imagine what life was like 300 years ago.
Guarding the northern shoreline since 1924, the Duncansby Head Lighthouse is a prominent sight on the skyline of the northeast corner of Scotland. During the First World War, a temporary fog signal was placed here to warn passing ships of the dangerous shoreline. After the war, this was later replaced by a more permanent signal in the shape of the 67-metre tall lighthouse you see today.
Just outside of the town of John O’Groats, this lighthouse is a popular stopping off point for people adventuring along the North Coast 500. Stop off here for a fantastic view of the open ocean, including a view of the Orkney Islands on an exceptionally clear day.
Duncansby Head Sunset
What better place is there to admire an incredible sunset than at the edge of the world? Duncansby Head is a spectacular spot to finish (or even begin) another day on the NC500, with nothing but open ocean before you. We suggest parking up here for the night and admiring this spectacular view as the sun sets below the ocean.
The small port town of Ullapool lies just 55 miles northwest of Inverness and an important connection to the outer Scottish Isles. The main ferry port to the Stornaway Isles, Ullapool is a hugely popular stopping point for those exploring the north of Scotland, including the NC500 road trip.
Built on the west coast of Scotland, on the sheltered shores of Loch Broom, Ullapool sits nestled into the surrounding hills. As the sun sets across the water it illuminates the surrounding hills a golden orange and shows off the true beauty of what Scotland has to offer.
We suggest that you stop by here for some food and drinks, enjoy the live music that is on offer at the local tavern, go for a walk along the high street, browse the souvenir shops and admire the stunning view of Loch Broom. The Broomfield Holiday Park is the ideal campsite for those wanting to spend the day and night in the vibrant town of Ullapool.
Wild Camping in the Highlands
If there is one way to enjoy the true beauty of Scotland it is by escaping to the Scottish highlands in a tent. Wild camping is hugely popular across Scotland and is the act of pitching up a tent or parking up your campervan in a suitable, remote location, with nothing but you and the stars above for company.
In order for everyone to enjoy such a fantastic hobby and to continue to provide this right to the next generation, there are certain Wild Camping guidelines that we all must follow. These include taking your litter with you and being respectful of the locals in the area.
The John O’Groats Signs
One of the most famous signposts in the United Kingdom, the John O’Groats sign is a must-see photo spot on your NC500 road trip. It is one of the most photographed signposts in the world and marks the end of Britain’s longest walking/ cycling routes, from Lands End in the south to John O’Groats in the north. Sitting a the most northerly point of the mainland, John O’Groats is not far from the previously mentioned Duncansby Head.
Today, there are two signposts that you can visit, a free to visit replica where the original once stood, and the original signpost (which requires a fee to have your photo taken with) which sits on a plot of land near to the Hamlet’s campsite.
Highland Cows Along the Route
One of Scotland’s most famous beauties, the Highland Cow. You will no doubt see these gorgeous beasts all along your northern trip, so keep an eye out and have your camera ready. If you are travelling during the Spring months of March through to May you may get extra lucky and spot a newly born calf with its mama.
Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe
As you venture into the lands of mythology and magic that is the north of Scotland, history is quite literally everywhere. From ancient battlegrounds to the ruins of castles, the highlands are an absolute gem to the imagination. One of the most spectacular sights you can visit on this trip through time is the beautiful ruins of Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe.
Situated just south of John O’Groats, these ruins are some of the most well-preserved and impressive in the highlands. Perched on the edge of a cliff, the castle ruins are surrounded on three sides by a drop to the ocean. This will have made for a fantastic defensive position, which is probably why there is even evidence of Neolithic settlements in this same area.
The earliest remains of the castle date back to the 14th century, by the Sinclair family, however, over the next 300 years the castle was expanded and developed, before being destroyed by siege after siege.
The most beautiful part of this castle comes from standing at the remains of an ancient window, staring out to the open ocean before you and imagining what thoughts the original dwellers must have had.
So there you have it, the most photogenic spots around the North Coast 500, reason alone to get planning your own northern adventure. If you have any locations of your own that you can suggest to your other adventurers let us know in the comments section below. What was your favourite photo spot on the trip? Did you see any other wildlife on your trip? Let us know in the comments below.
As always, sharing is caring so make sure to share this photo guide with your family and friends and inspire them to head off on their own North Coast 500 adventure. If you are planning the trip for yourself, make sure you have a look at the rest of our Scotland content for more inspiration to our beautiful home country.
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- 7-day North Coast 500 Itinerary – FREE, Detailed and Unforgettable!
- North Coast 500 Castles – The Ultimate Guide to Scotland’s Historical Castles
- North Coast 500 Highlights – 19 Best Sights Along the NC500
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